Voices & Choices

Oscar nominees selected through ranked choice voting

Oscar nominees selected through ranked choice voting

This week we learned the nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards. There is a fascinating lineup of nominees for the coveted trophy for Best Picture including Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

The story behind the selection process to arrive at the Oscar nominees though, is as interesting as the nominees themselves.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the “Academy”) has employed ranked choice voting to determine the winner of the Best Picture Oscar since 2009 - in that “winner take all” contest, ranked choice voting (RCV) results in a winner that has both strong first choice support and broad support. 

But since the1930s, the Academy has used the RCV proportional voting method to nominate nearly all major categories. All Academy voters get to rank their choices in their area of expertise and for Best Picture.

Here is how it all works when selecting five nominees, such as Best Director or Best Actress: In order to secure an Academy nomination in most categories, a nominee must receive about 17 percent of the vote, either in the first round or subsequent ranked choice voting rounds. At the end of the count, reliably more than four in five Academy voters will have helped a contender be nominated in the field they know best. This speaks to why the Academy picked this approach: they wanted as many members as possible to feel a stake in Oscar night. See an example of this preferential system here 

This proportional form of RCV is the same as the one FairVote has been advocating for in the Fair Representation Act, to ensure Congress looks more like the people it represents. Like the FRA, the Oscars uses a process of elimination that fosters more choice and diverse selections.

For the past decade, Best Picture has used a variation of this RCV system that does not result in a fixed number of nominees, but next year will return to the same proportional form of RCV. That means in 2021, 10 movies are sure to be nominated, with nominations requiring the strong support of about 9% of Academy voters.

“While it might not be for the coveted golden statue, the selection of our members of Congress deserves a similar treatment,” says Rob Richie, President & CEO of FairVote. “Proportional RCV not only improves how we pick our favorite movies, but how we can have more meaningful choices and provide voters a greater say in who represents them.”


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